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The fort. By thunder, this was my favorite thing as a kid other than legos. It was helpful that my parents had a good size playroom in the basement that was always full of odd bits of stuff. Our standard forts seem well represented here, from the couch cushions to the bed sheet tarp roofs. Well, we don’t have a lot of spare bed sheets any more and our couch cushions don’t come off. For that matter, my niece is too old for forts and I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but I can’t exactly solve that problem before the contest deadline, can I?

If you find yourself in the position of needing to build a fort, say to defend against your many adversaries or to amuse a niece or nephew who is visiting, all you need for materials is the art teacher’s old standby: newspaper.

You will also need a fair amount of tape.

Intelligence, a sense of creativity, hope for the future, and tempera paint are also recommended.

I've added some pics from forts of days gone by when my niece and our friend's daughter were younger. Unfortunately, now that they've outgrown that, the only way I could demonstrate with actual kids is to go around the neighborhood inviting the local kids to play in my fort...and that’s creepy. Instead I will make it cat scale for my own “kids”, Jetta-Maxx, Panther, and T-bor.

But what kind of fort to build?

Well,I recently visited Historic Fort Wayne located in Detriot, MI, and this gave me an inspiration. Fort Wayne is a Star Fort, which is a style of fortification that came about after cannons demonstrated that those big castle walls, like parts of the Red October missile bay, do not take kindly to bullets.

A star fort is not nearly cute enough for the kittens, so to crank up the cuteness to 11, I will build not a Star Fort, but a Mario Bros. Shine Fort!

My very patient wife was kind enough to film me in the whole process, so for most of the steps I have some helpful but optional videos for your enjoyment.

Let's see what my cat Jetta Maxx thinks about it:

Step 1: The Plan

Planning is an essential part of any proper fortification. I’m not saying that you should bore your children to tears drawing up elaborate CAD models and checking your local building codes...but that’s what I would do. It builds character and prepares them for the professional world.

Your fort will use rolled tubes to make a truss structure that you will then cover with sheets to form a skin. In my plans you can see triangles everywhere. Besides being the minimum number of sides for a regular polyhedron, triangles are inherently stable in trusses. You will find them all over in architecture and in bridges because of their strength. Now, newspaper isn't the strongest building material on the best days, so I will give it as much of an edge as I can by building everything with triangles. Feel free to make other shapes, but be that on your head.

Remember:
Paper Triangle = Good!
Love Triangle = Bad!

So, here are my plans for the shine fort. Napkins are the traditional media for sketching up crackpot plans for forts.

Step 2: Rolling the Paper Tubes

The foundation of a strong fortification is in the basic structure. Here our structure will be made from newspaper tubes. For this fort, I don’t need long tubes, so I can roll them square to the paper. If I need a bit more length I can roll them on a diagonal and roll several tubes together, however watch out for these longer tubes as they get weak.

Generally a larger roll diameter has some extra strength from bulking out (a larger second moment of area) but has fewer wraps making thinner walls that reduce the strength. If the walls are too thin they are easy to kink, which can make the whole roll buckle under load. You can use Euler's column formula with both ends pinned if you choose (and I might this weekend) or remember that you are working with kids and just experiment and relax already.

Tighten your roll to about the diameter of your thumb and tape the tubes in the rolled state.

You will find that newspaper tubes are surprisingly strong when rolled. A round column shape is ideal to resist a vertical load. I wouldn’t want to make a house from them, but they will stand up well against Nerf darts.

For this fort I rolled 32 tubes and then cut them in half for a total of 64 short tubes.

Feeling a little lost still? Try the moving pictures:

Step 3: Form the Base

I began with an octagonal base with each side one tube long. Tape the ends together. It is ok to crimp up the tube ends a bit for taping, but try to leave the midsection intact. The round tube shape gives it strength.

As before, this video may add some clarity:
 

Step 4: The First Row Truss

Here is where our friend the triangle; shows up. I started with a row of triangles up from the base. They share their corners and are all the same length. Don’t expect them to stay up on their own.

The second row of triangles is made by taping a row of tubes onto the tips of the lower triangles. We want these triangles to tilt in slightly, so I am taping them a little short. Once these are taped, the wall should be free standing.

Here is the non-mandatory video for this step.

Step 5: The Center Dome

I now want to form the center dome. At this point I just will tape a tube from each vertex of the lower truss to a point in the center. Don’t expect your dome to hold up with only the first tubes taped in, but by the end you should have a strong structure that resembles some sort of expanded half-icosahedron that has been augmented by additional triangles.

If that description isn't clear enough, then I have a picture included and a video attached:

Step 6: The Shine Rays

It wouldn’t be much of a shine without rays coming out, would it? No, it wouldn't.

In fact, it requires 8 rays coming out. To make these rays, I tape together the ends of three tubes to form the ray, and then attach the ray over the vertex of the base octagon. One tube connects to the center of each of the adjoining sides of the octagon and the middle tube is nestled softly in the crook of the two wall-tubes coming up from the vertex. A picture is worth a thousand words here and as I’m not getting paid by the word so there is, as before, a picture. A movie as well.


Repeat around the perimeter for all eight rays.

Now, check if you have remaining tubes. If you do, then look for where your shine faces imminent collapse and rectify the situation before you kill us all!

For reasons I was never clear on other than an obscure reference to the “pearls” on a heraldic coronet, the Shine has three balls capping the only the upper three rays. Not wanting to give a long lesson on heraldry at this stage in the construction, I assumed that the Shine had at least a ranking of marquess and made these from a ball of crumpled newspaper taped in place.

If the movies help, here it is! If the movies don't help, you can also play it to keep your cats company.

Step 7: Covering the Frame

Let’s face it, the defensive properties of your fort without a covering would make the Maginot Line seem more effective. A quick skin of newspaper will fix this. Feel free to tell your kids that the newspaper will deflect any incoming fire, much like movies make us think that car doors will still stop bullets.

Make sure to tape down your skin well. Overlap is fine. If you are really ambitious and your kids are very patient, feel free to use some paste on this to make a paper mache covering. You will feel proud as your kids wait in tears.

If you have areas where the structure is a little shaky, you may be surprised how much the skin will stiffen it up. In these cases be sure to firmly tape the skin onto the frame.

I do have a brief, but optional bit of film on this step.

Step 8: Decoration!

Now is the time to let your creative juices flow again, especially if your creative juices consist of tempera paint.

Now, for my Shine I knew that I would be painting it yellow with black eyes, but in your case you can let your freak flag fly and decorate it to your heart’s content. If you are making something more traditionally fort shaped you could make a brickwork pattern or paint some knight’s shields.

I chose tempera paint for a few reasons. First, it’s very cheap and is sold in large bottles. Second, it is water based, so cleanup is easy (it even comes in a easy clean-up version now). Finally, I had tempera paint on hand, which is the best reason of all.

I had considered spray paint early on, but local laws make it more of a pain to get spray paint and it is much more likely to make a huge and less-cleanable mess.

I also relocated my shine to the back yard so that whatever mess I do make is able to be mowed up and not covering the floor and walls. If you don’t want to go outside or can’t, I’m sure a resourceful person would be able to identify a ready source of newspaper to lay down to cover the floor.

One down side is that it will wet your newspaper. If your structure was a little shaky before, it will probably not survive, so take some care with your paint.

Some video that I guarantee is not as boring as watching paint dry.

Step 9: Presentation

Now is the glorious time when you present your new shine fort to your kids...or cats…

If you are making this fort for your cats, the placement of cat treats inside will encourage exploration. For kids I have found that cat treats do not provide encouragement.

Like any child fort from sheets, cardboard, or paper, this fort should be seen as a very temporary thing. Don’t expect your kids to hand it down to their kids. In fact, if it makes it a whole week you probably did that paper mache thing, didn't you?

When it is time to demilitarize your play area, I believe that your fort is recyclable!

If your cats, or kids really like it, and you find yourself feeling old-timey, you can also make a silent movie of it all, as shown here.

But first, let's see how the cats liked it! This is really much better appreciated in video form.

Step 10: Bonus Round: Descent Into Madness

After successfully completing the shine for the cats, I did feel a lingering desire to make something that I could fit into. After all, these are forts for the love of Pete. I also felt that you, my audience, deserve to see a larger fort.

This larger fort follows a similar basic design, but with the larger size I tried to add a few other useful features, such as a door, roof hatch, and skylight. I had high hopes for this project, however it is also a lesson on scaling that ended...humorously…

Allow me to introduce it via video feed from my hidden bunker:

Step 11: Bonus Round: Rolling Tubes

For the larger fort, you will need larger tubes. To do this I rolled the tube diagonally instead of square to the page. The principal here is that the rolls need to be stiffer in the middle to prevent buckling and we can save by rolling on the diagonal.

Looking back, the tips were simply too thin, and were collapsing. If I were to do it again I would instead roll them square and maybe make a third row of wall.

I again need 64 tubes to form the basic structure, but made extra tubes in order to make the extra hatches and door. I made 71 tubes but only used 70 of them. Let me tell you that rolling 71 tubes is the most fun I had since having to paint a fence.

I have a short clip that may further explain:

Step 12: Bonus Round: Assembling the Tubes

The base and first row come together just like before with an octagonal base and triangular rows. Clearly this was my first indication of trouble as my walls were collapsing. That is not insurmountable as the center dome will help to hold up the walls, so I thought. Like my earlier shine, the tubes all come together in the center. This was the next point where I had to stop and think that something was wrong. Still, it held up!

The shine rays are similar to before but with a slight twist. In the earlier shine the center tube of the ray could just sit in the v of the two vertical tubes. With the relatively small tube size, I had to put the center tube to one side, tape up on the nearby upright.

Rather than describe the whole process again, you can see a summary of clips here:

Step 13: Bonus Round: Doors!

This is where I really diverge from the smaller shine fort. The opening was so large that I felt a door was needed.

Here I also added a couple of tubes that hinge out from the main structure on the top. One of these covers a hatch that can be used to poke your head out and the other will be used for a skylight.

This is perhaps more clear with the movie that explains the hatches and expounds on lessons learned.:

Step 14: Bonus Round: Painting!

Oh boy, this is where things really got wild. For one, I ran out of daylight just after I finished putting on the skin. There was a chance of rain that night, so I had to awkwardly try to shift the structure under cover. The next day I then had to try to, again awkwardly, shift it back into position. The Shine was not pleased. The worst part...it didn’t rain.

As I mentioned earlier, tempera paint will wet the newspaper. This not only make it weaker, but also much heavier! You can see from the pictures that, even with a central post, the whole thing was a stiff breeze away from collapse.

Because of the larger size, rather than applying paint from a bowl I just squirted it onto the shine and painted. The clip is again not required, but should prove amusing.

What happened next? Click Ahead!

Step 15: Bonus Round: Aftermath

Well, it was a valiant attempt. What went wrong?

First: I should have not rolled the tubes on a diagonal. That would work for some tube members, but the vertical supports were not having it.

Second: I should not have tried to scale up the shine so much, at least not directly. Probably if I had used smaller tubes and more rows, I would have had a more stable and reliable structure. I could have left out some of the tubes to still make a door or hatch, but the rest of it would be stronger.

Third: I should have just left the Shine in place and not tried to move it. While moving it I bent up a bunch of the tubes. Once the tubes have a big kink in them, their strength goes down considerably.

I was a little sad, as it could have been so beautiful and could have been so right, but my wife has told me to stop using Tiffany lyrics in my building projects as I am not a suburban teenage girl in the ‘80’s.

Still, i felt I owed it to you, my readers, to give the attempt. It did hold up long enough to take a few pictures in it...before I meted out my vengeance upon it.

Let’s face it. Making a fort is awesome, but getting a chance to pretend to be Godzilla...priceless.

See the clip for the play by play of what failed...and the dramatic conclusion to the Instructable!


If you have reached this point, congratulations! I love to get feedback, especially if you made a fort or if you have suggestions on how I can improve my Instructables!

Step 16: Bonus Round: the Outer Skin

This is again much like before. I tried to secure the skin better to the frame to add strength. You might not think it, but that many pages of newspaper has a decent amount of weight. The structure certainly noticed because the central dome started to really sag. To try to stave off disaster I found a piece of tree branch in the yard and used it as a central post to hold up the dome.

With the skin on, the function of the hatch becomes more clear.

On the “skylight” side I used wax paper to cover the hole in the roof so that light can shine in while maintaining the enclosure.

This is also when I put the balls on the shine rays.

As before, a brief clip of the attempt:

About This Instructable

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Bio: I'm a Mechancial/Aerospace Engineer that likes to tinker in my spare time. I make my own Christmas Cards.
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